I cannot recall the first time I read the book. It seems like it has always been a part of my life.
And there is no doubt it has profoundly impacted my life.
My first connection to the novel actually came in the summer of 1980 down in Texas.
We trekked all the way down south for a Reynolds family reunion. For part of our time down there we stayed with my father's sister, Aunt Elaine, who was the most gracious host you can imagine. Even though I was just seven, I still recall the first meal we ate there: fried chicken. It was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life.
The other thing I recall quite vividly (other than the intense heat and visiting with a neighbor boy) while down there was our families gathered in the living room watching a film.
I was not one to get caught up in a film that wasn't Star Wars or Conan the Barbarian, but I found myself riveted by the courtroom scene. It struck me as terribly unfair and unjust. It simply broke my heart.
It wasn't until years later when I taught the novel at Lincoln and showed the film to my students that I realized that the court scene that shook me so all those years ago was the Tom Robinson trial from the classic film!
When I first read the novel (in high school, perhaps?) it seems like a classic Young Adult novel. I was caught up in the childish antics of Scout ("Pass the damn ham" is still one of my all time favorite quotes from any novel) and Jem (trying to peak into the Boo Radley place and almost getting shot).
Then when I read it later in college and began teaching it at LHS, the social justice inherent in the story (namely in Atticus) became most important to me.
Now when I read it as a middle-aged man and father of four, I read it as a guide to fatherhood (and what better example could you have other than Atticus) and how adults interact (I recall Miss Lafayette Dubose's refusal to die from cancer beholding to nothing or no one or how Aunt Alexandra stands up for Atticus (in her own way) when one of her social circle insults him at a dinner party).
And, of course, there is my Scout, Kenzie Scout Reynolds.
I just watched this documentary on the novel and all the change in instigated. I love the line "She wrote the book that explained us to ourselves. And she put it in a beautiful story."
And now we prepare for the second book from Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman.